Beirut BlastOn August 4, 2020, a horrific explosion took place in Beirut, Lebanon, killing at least 214 people and injuring thousands of civilians. The Beirut blast “was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history” as it tore through the city. Estimations indicate that roughly “552 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded” at the port of Beirut. Since the explosion, Lebanon has experienced heightened civil unrest, economic hardship, increasing poverty and political deadlock.

In the face of the tragedy and adversity that continues to plague Lebanon, young people in Beirut are innovatively working to rebuild the Lebanese capital. Cash 4 Work, a program mobilized by UNICEF, is a youth network focused on helping reconnect homes to municipal and private water supplies along with prioritizing the cleaning and rehabilitation of Beirut.

Economic Impacts of the Beirut Blast

Lebanon was facing a severe economic crisis even before the Beirut blast. After the explosion, poverty levels rose further and the Lebanese economy essentially collapsed. According to the World Bank, the country’s GDP has decreased by a staggering 40% with more than 50% of the population pushed into the depths of poverty. Job prospects for youth are increasingly difficult to come by, placing young professionals in a tough position as they attempt to secure their futures amid a failing economy.

Participants of the recent UNICEF Cash 4 Work program are primarily the most vulnerable and impoverished youth who understand first-hand what living in poverty looks and feels like. According to UNICEF, “Cash 4 Work programs create earning opportunities that can temporarily stabilize people’s incomes following a disaster or a crisis.” Participants learn valuable skills, knowledge and training to improve their economic status and their ability to provide for their families. Furthermore, with the tools to positively impact their country, youth participants are able to use their skills to rebuild the nation and lift others out poverty.

The Role of the Youth

Immediately after the explosion, the youth of Beirut were among the first to pick up the pieces and start rebuilding their communities. At the time, UNICEF staff were on the ground working with more than 1,170 youth volunteers to sweep up debris, perform household repairs and deliver food and cloth masks to affected citizens. In an interview with Forbes, a teenager working on the ground said, “We will not lose hope. We are staying here on the ground.”

UNICEF staff “reconnected more than 60 buildings to the public water system” and handed out emergency supplies “including 1,600 hygiene kits and 400 baby kits to families in need.” UNICEF also helped “reunite children with their families” and supported child counseling efforts to address the trauma of the Beirut blast.

Exactly one year after the Beirut blast, youth mobilization continues with the support of UNICEF’s new Cash 4 Work program, which ensures new job opportunities in Lebanon. Cash 4 Work is not only playing an active role in shaping the job market for young professionals but it is also connecting people with the goal of shaping a more positive future for Beirut. A 24-year-old Cash 4 Work participant, Mohammad, describes his experience with the program. He tells UNICEF, “I am happy that I gained a skill and I am still learning. To work on my future and achieve my goals, especially in these difficult times, is something special.”

Programs and initiatives from humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF bring hope to a devastated country, allowing citizens a chance to continue to rebuild and recover more than a year after the Beirut blast.

– Alysha Mohamed
Photo: Flickr

Vaccinating Maré's favelasDespite Brazil’s largely successful vaccine program, it is only now that Maré, Rio de Janeiro’s largest complex of favelas, is experiencing mass vaccination against COVID-19. One thousand professionals vaccinated a significant portion of the population. In schools, “health centers” and other sites, these professionals look to vaccinate upwards of 30,000 people between 18 and 34 throughout the community. Organizer planned to give community members the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was produced by the Fiocruz institute.

Why the Vaccination Drive?

This effort is not permanent and cannot indefinitely supply vaccines. A primary goal of the effort is to conduct a study on the effects of mass vaccinations in such a large complex, which is home to widespread “poverty and violence” and often does not reap the same benefits as wealthier areas of Rio. In Maré, which contains 16 favelas, more than half of the inhabitants are under 30.

Maré has seen about 350 deaths since the pandemic began, but reporting difficulties in many other favelas often means that even official counts are artificially low. The study will utilize genomic sequencing to track variants and will seek to understand vaccine efficacy in the face of the virus evolving. Vaccinating Maré’s favelas stands as a novel move. The study’s uniqueness stems from its size, its target population and its location. Since rapid spreading can lead to a rise in variants, using a favela, rather than a hospital or health unit, is beneficial to research into variants.

Maré’s Social Mobilisation

Along with the program, Maré’s greatest strength in responding to the pandemic has been its social mobilization. Campaigns to reduce the number of deaths work through local media, social networks and word of mouth. The NGO Redes da Maré and the Mare Mobilization Front both work to inform and educate the public.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the COVID-19 in Favelas Unified Dashboard recorded nearly 7,000 COVID-19-related deaths from nearly 100,000 cases. The dashboard focuses on the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. However, cases and deaths are both underreported, and the Unified Dashboard does not cover every favela, meaning that the actual death toll is doubtlessly much greater. For these reasons and more, vaccinating Maré’s favelas remains a key priority.

Understanding the Dashboard

The dashboard began in April 2020 “when grassroots organizations participating in projects organized by Catalytic Communities (CatComm) began to report cases and deaths in virtual meetings of the Sustainable Favela Network (SFN).” CatComm began a reporting initiative through newspapers and word of mouth from community groups themselves. Other methods included individual outreach for data collection, outreach to local health clinics or through WhatsApp, and analysis of available data when accessible.

The initiative gained traction because of a catalyzing unwillingness by the government to “survey favelas.” The dashboard was officially launched on July 7, 2020, according to its website, and has grown with each new press conference surrounding its progress. Campaigns like #VacinaPraFavelaJá have arisen to promote vaccination and have even enlisted figures like cartoonist Carlos Latuff.

Looking Forward

While the initiation of the vaccine process is a welcome one to many inhabitants of Maré, it has begun only after countless deaths and governmental neglect. The widespread nature and varied methods of the Unified Dashboard have meanwhile shown how collective action can keep communities afloat even in the absence of sufficient governmental intervention. Moreover, with strong community engagement and growing governmental support, vaccinating Maré’s favelas could lead to a more secure and safe future in due time.

Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Unsplash

New opportunities in IndiaZomato is a food technology startup out of India. The startup’s stock just hit the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) and is already wildly successful. The company’s success and growth open opportunities in the food delivery industry, which has the major selling point of schedule self-determination. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is estimated that an additional 75 million people in India have been plunged into poverty. Zomato provides new opportunities in India and has the potential to stir up the economy and create jobs for those living in poverty.

Zomato as a Poverty Fighting Agent

Founded in 2010, Zomato challenges poverty in India from multiple angles. The platform connects potential customers with restaurants they might be interested in, and it also allows customers to review restaurants, reserve tables and order delivery through third-party services. Third-party food delivery serves as a new job market in India and is the most crucial aspect in terms of economic growth. Companies like DoorDash, Uber Eats and Seamless entice potential drivers with the appeal of creating their own schedule. They also allow a variety of delivery methods, from cars to bicycles. This can be a great aid in lifting people out of poverty because of the inherently accessible and flexible job opportunities.

Effect on Job Market

Forbes cited what it deemed a “well-founded argument” when it said, “[A]s the restaurants go, so goes the economy.” This goes far beyond the direct effects of job losses on the service industry. Forbes points to interconnected impacts, including impacts on delivery services, agricultural workers and various goods producers and refiners. In addition, restaurant failures also have a technological impact. The systems that uphold everything from sales to reservations become far more irrelevant if a restaurant cannot function properly. The scope of the service industry is much wider than many realize, and its success plays an imperative role in the economic success of an area. When restaurants are succeeding, job opportunities in multiple sectors become available and help to propel economic growth.

IPO Success and Economic Implications

When shares of Zomato hit the market at the end of July 2021, the initial public offering price was 91 rupees. However, the stock opened even higher at 116 rupees per share. At this price per share, the company’s valuation comes to approximately 910 billion rupees, equivalent to roughly $12.2 billion. Stock prices rose throughout the day on all trading markets where Zomato was available. Large-scale investors have held a stake in Zomato since as early as last year with Uber selling its food delivery business in India to Zomato in exchange for a stake in the company. Additionally, Ant Financial has also backed Zomato with a hefty agreement to invest upwards of $150 million.

These powerhouse corporations are fanning the flames of the food industry, creating opportunity in this new market in India and jump-starting economic growth. The predicted and continued success of this tech startup shows promise for cross-sectional economic development and subsequent poverty reduction.

Michelle M. Schwab
Photo: Unsplash

women in the Olympics

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was highly anticipated for many reasons. One of the most historic reasons is that it was the most “gender-balanced” Olympics in the history of the global competition. With all 206 National Olympic Committees sending “at least one female and one male” athlete from their country, women made up just under half of all competing athletes at the Tokyo Olympics. This Olympics produced many role models for children across the world, but young girls are seeing firsthand the empowerment of women in sports.

Women from across the world broke barriers and became the face of change for women in sports forever. These Olympians left a lasting legacy in their respective sports and represented progress toward gender equality for their home countries. Hundreds of women broke barriers at the 2020 Olympics, but Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Hend Zaza and Yulimar Rojas were three women whose stories are just as notable as the history they are making.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Earning the nickname “second-fastest woman in history” is no small feat, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has left her mark on the world by doing more than just running. Growing up in one of the poorest areas of Kingston, Jamaica, she first discovered the sport by running to primary school every day while barefoot. Fraser-Pryce dedicates her life to more than her sport and has a passion for working with underprivileged kids. Even with a silver medal in the women’s 100m and a gold medal in the women’s 4x100m relay at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Fraser-Pryce’s legacy extends beyond the Olympic finish line.

Since 2010, she has served as a UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador for Jamaica. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she coordinated a fundraiser through her resource center, The Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce Resource Centre in Waterhouse. As a result, the Centre supplied computers to allow education to continue during the pandemic for local children. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is a role model to more than just girls hoping to run as fast as her one day. She also proves to underprivileged kids with upbringings similar to hers that anything is possible when it comes to achieving your dreams.

Hend Zaza

Hend Zaza was the youngest person competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and was also the youngest since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. At 12 years old, the Syrian native left a mark on the world as a table tennis prodigy with invitations to train in China by the Chinese Olympic Committee. Zaza did not have a conventional upbringing, being born just two years before the civil war began in Syria.

Because of the conflict in Syria, it was difficult for Zaza to train or even travel between cities. Another barrier for Zaza was the lack of funding for competitions and equipment, like paddles and balls. This left her competition experience limited before her qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Her training for the Olympics occurred primarily at the Al Faiha Club in Damascus. With little or no air conditioning and frequent power outages, Zaza defeated many odds to make strides at the Olympics. While Zaza did not receive an Olympic medal this time around, her mark on the sport of table tennis and the story of her determination and passion will last for many years.

Yulimar Rojas

Awarded Female Athlete of the Year by World Athletics, Yulimar Rojas makes history as the first Venezuelan woman to win this honor. Rojas won the gold medal while breaking the world record for the women’s triple jump at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Born in a rural and poorer region of Venezuela’s capital Caracas, Rojas grew up in a house known as a “ranchito.” Aside from her impoverished upbringing, Yulimar Rojas was originally not allowed to compete and travel to international competitions due to her father’s disapproval. The societal standard of women competing in sports is a hurdle athletes like Rojas fight to overcome. Venezuela has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality, but Rojas continues to push for her change through her life and impressive athletic career.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics brought the world together during an unprecedented time. The women on this global stage were not just sources of empowerment to girls who look up to them. They were also representatives of resilience, passion and drive for the world. Gender equality and women’s representation in the 2020 Olympics is just another reason these historic few weeks were something to remember for generations to come.

Annaclaire Acosta
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

historic vaccine rolloutThe African Union (AU) has announced a deal that will send up to 400 million vaccines to 55 member states. The vaccines will go across the African continent in monthly shipments in order to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

On August 5, 2021, Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of the Republic of South Africa made this historic vaccine rollout public. He reported that the AU had purchased 220 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine in March. A possible 180 million additional vaccines can later be ordered.

How was the deal made?

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the African Union joined forces with the World Bank and other organizations to support The African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team. The team aims to provide rapid access to doses of the vaccine for the people of Africa. The team comprises ten members, including political leaders, health ministers, businessmen and philanthropists from all across Africa.

The World Bank will continue to support the AU in this historic vaccine rollout, supplying resources that will allow individual nations to purchase and distribute the vaccine. Additional assistance will come from the United Nations. UNICEF will assist with delivery and distribution management across the African continent.

Why Johnson & Johnson?

Each of the 400 million doses included in the deal will come from Johnson & Johnson.

The calculus behind this decision was thorough: Since the vaccine comes in a single dose, it is easier and cheaper to produce and administer. Moreover, the vaccine’s relatively long shelf life will ease logistical concerns. A recent study from South Africa reported high efficacy for the single-shot J&J vaccine, with up to 96.2 percent protection against death. The study also reported high protection against both the Delta and Beta variants of COVID-19 in Africa.

The most significant piece of the vaccine deal will take place right at home—part of the vaccine manufacturing process will occur in South Africa. Centralized at the Aspen Pharmacare facility in Gqeberha, South Africa, this insourcing of production will provide new jobs that will, in part, assist with post-pandemic economic recovery.

Where Africa Stands

As a continent, Africa lags behind in vaccination rates, which has placed economic stress on many nations. Vaccination rates also exemplify pandemic inequities that permeate the globe. As of July 23, 2021, only 2.2 percent of the African population has received a dose of any vaccine. In North America, more than half the population has received at least one shot.

These 400 million doses are enough to immunize more than one-third of the African population. At the same time, more work will need to take place in order for the continent to reach its 60% goal as it continues to adapt to and fight against the pandemic.

This new deal to bring in and produce vaccines provides hope that cases and deaths related to COVID-19 in Africa can decrease. It also helps cement the hope that even some of the most impoverished areas in Africa can recover from the pandemic.

Sam Dils
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

the rule of lawIn many countries around the world, the judicial process comes with a hefty price tag. As a result, impoverished communities often lack access to the legal services and assistance necessary to achieve justice. To ensure these communities can access the judicial process, legal organizations are expanding their manpower internationally to provide legal tools and programs to people in need. Below are five legal organizations addressing global poverty by promoting the rule of law.

  1. Lawyers without Borders (LWOB) – This organization offers pro bono legal services to communities in need around the world. These services often include legal advice and assistance to promote the rule of law. Additionally, the organization helps train future members of the trial system through its “Support Through Trial Advocacy Training” (STTAT). This includes judges, prosecutors, magistrates and more. LWOB takes participants step-by-step through the trial process to better understand legal proceedings. To ensure as many communities benefit from STTAT training as possible, LWOB has translated course materials into a plethora of languages including “Swahili, Amharic, Creole, Nepali, French and Spanish.”
  2. Lawyers Against Poverty – This organization works to promote social justice in different countries. Composed of volunteer lawyers from around the world, Lawyers Against Poverty provides legal assistance and donations to communities in need. For example, in 2020 the organization donated 30,000 pounds to help women living in Jordan file legal proceedings for domestic violence during the pandemic. Additionally, the organization has donated 10,000 pounds to provide refugees in Greece with legal assistance filing asylum cases. To date, the organization has donated time and money to Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya and Greece to broaden important access to judicial systems.
  3. TrustLaw (The Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Created in 2011, this program came into being as part of the Thomson Reuter Foundation’s aim to provide pro bono legal services to worldwide communities. By connecting non-governmental organizations with law firms, TrustLaw provides a plethora of communities with legal assistance and training courses. In fact, TrustLaw has supplied legal assistance worth about $172 million since its creation. Additionally, the program works on three “areas of impact” to promote the rule of law. First, TrustLaw encourages members to devise solutions to climate change. Next, TrustLaw works to end modern slavery by conducting legal research on the issue. Finally, TrustLaw works to ensure women’s rights are upheld and respected on the international stage.
  4. International Development Law Organization (IDLO)In 1988, the International Development Law Organization was uniquely formed to serve as a global intergovernmental organization that promoted the rule of law. It has impacted more than 90 different countries worldwide. Additionally, IDLO works in regions like Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. In addition to promoting the rule of law, the organization also focuses on women’s rights, economic sustainability, peace and democracy, public health, climate change and access to justice. The organization focuses on U.N. goals as well in its efforts toward sustainability.
  5. Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) – A nonprofit, the Global Legal Action Network dedicates itself to injustice and holding countries that violate human rights accountable. To gain international influence, the nonprofit partners with local grassroots organizations and civil society leaders in countries around the world. In addition to addressing human rights violators, the organization also deals with legal issues. These include issues tied to war, immigration and economic justice. More recently, GLAN has partnered with the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) to expose how the Chinese government mistreats Uyghurs in concentration camps.

The five legal organizations mentioned above address global poverty by offering donations, legal services and assistance to communities in need. This way, poor communities are not disadvantaged in terms of accessing different judicial systems around the world. Overall, these legal organizations ensure justice is available to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status, sex, ethnicity or nationality.

Chloe Young
Photo: Unsplash

Mental Health in SloveniaSlovenia has made notable efforts to alleviate mental health difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially remarkable considering the Slovenian government’s substantial battle in improving mental health in Slovenia over the past two decades.

Mental Health in Slovenia

In 2006, an HBSC survey provided some insight into the extent to which the population was coping with mental health difficulties. Notably, of girls aged 11-15, “only 39% estimated their mental health as excellent” while the percentage among boys of the same age was higher at 53%. Additionally concerning is that 16% of girls and 12% of boys surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with their lives. A more recent WHO-conducted Mental Health Atlas Country Profile report also sparks concerns as the WHO official estimate of Slovenia’s burden of mental disorders in 2014 is noteworthy. Particularly concerning is the fact that the figure of disability-adjusted life years due to mental disorders was 4.3 years and the age-standardized suicide rate was 12.4 suicides per 100,000 people.

Connection to Poverty

Slovenia’s fight to improve its population’s mental health cannot be disconnected from the issue of poverty, especially when it comes to mental health among adolescents. The evidence that best demonstrates this link to poverty comes from a 2014 mental health inequalities study. The principal finding was that adolescents in lower socioeconomic standings display poorer mental health outcomes than those in higher socioeconomic positions.

The study also demonstrates that the connection to poverty goes further, with results showing that the adolescent perception of an impoverished familial financial position will both decrease their “life satisfaction” and increase the risk of the adolescent enduring mental health problems. These extensive facts and figures demonstrate that mental health in Slovenia also constitutes a poverty issue and is representative of the byproducts of wealth inequalities.

Slovenia’s Past Mental Health Efforts

During the past two decades prior to the pandemic, Slovenia’s government progressively increased its commitment to addressing mental health in Slovenia with several services from newly formed institutions and programs. One of the nation’s key initiatives was outlining principal aims to strive for in its Programme for Children and Youth 2006-2016, which included ensuring children and young adults live a healthy life.

This involved not only improving the mental health of those targeted but also improving their financial and nutritional stability. Another massive initiative launched was a significant extension of the Slovene Network of Health Promoting Schools (SNHPS) in 1998 and 2008 to include more than 130 schools. The strategy aimed to promote health at schools in a more holistic manner and place greater emphasis on mental health. In addition, in recent years, the number of mental health-related seminars in school settings has also increased.

But, the country’s most notable act addressing mental health was the establishment in 2002 of health promotion centers (HPCs) within all of the country’s 61 primary healthcare centers. These HPCs function as the first-contact providers of mental health promotion services to the country’s population, especially the most marginalized and vulnerable communities.

Current Services and Solutions

Amid a global health pandemic with devastating effects on mental health in Slovenia, the Slovenian government is doing commendably in weathering the storm. At the height of the pandemic, 43 HPCs reported almost 1,500 telephonic calls between March 16 and May 24, 2020, with 67.4% of these calls stemming from “the psychological impact” of COVID-19. These statistics highlight the extent to which the pandemic exacerbated mental health conditions in the country.

Additionally, as the majority of the calls came from families and individuals with low incomes,  it is clear that the pandemic disproportionately impacts the impoverished. The brilliant work of HPCs, however, proved instrumental in minimizing the damage. Due to their phenomenal support, by the end of May 2020, calls to HPCs declined to a tenth of the number of calls made during the height of the pandemic two months before.

Another group that has done exceptional work in mitigating the country’s mental health difficulties during the pandemic is the Community Health Centre (CHC) Ljubljana. The WHO has praised CHC Ljubljana for its provision of strong primary mental health support during the pandemic, while also conducting research and development to ensure similar quality care is given long-term after the pandemic’s end. The CHC’s efforts include marginalized communities that are often overlooked in emergency relief efforts.

Overall, Slovenia is making significant efforts to address mental health afflictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the aim of improving mental health in Slovenia as a whole.

– Gabriel Sylvan
Photo: Flickr

Germany’s Recent FloodsFloods across Germany left hundreds dead and thousands displaced. The event not only caused mourning across the European continent but also created questions regarding Germany’s disaster response strategies. However, natural disasters like flooding do not occur often in the nation, so professionals believe that citizens will recover from Germany’s recent floods.

Flooding in Germany

During one week in July 2021, severe flooding occurred across Europe due to dangerous thunderstorms and rain. News sites and governments across the world stated that this natural disaster hit Germany the hardest. The country experienced nearly six inches of rain over 24 hours. Many call it the hundred-year flood. Of the 205 lives lost due to the flooding in Europe, 173 deaths occurred in Germany. Many of those people were located in the worst-hit Rhineland-Palatinate region.

While those missing are still being sought after, recovery teams state that they have little hope of finding any more survivors. However, professionals say that the death toll could have been worse. “The floods are very localized,” Dr. Andreas Sobisch, a John Carroll University political science professor from Germany, stated. “However, Germany does not often have these natural disasters. The floods are still a bit of a shock.”

The Response From German Officials

Germany’s recent floods put a halt to the country’s national electoral campaign for many candidates. Before the disaster, weather experts cautioned German authorities about the incoming rain and potential floods. However, the leaders chose to leave prevention and relief in the hands of local officials. Unfortunately, for many communities, there were no preventative actions. This led to heavy political discussions among the German populous. There are now discussions about what their current representatives will do for flooding in the future. According to AP News, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer stated that many were using the disaster as a time for “cheap election rhetoric.”

Politicians like Angela Merkel are now looking to improve Germany’s disaster relief. She is promoting disaster-triggered phone alerts and improving the nation’s infrastructure altogether. Yet, political competitors are seeking to prevent catastrophes like this from ever occurring again. CNBC stated that those running in the upcoming election are using the floods to promote their campaigns against climate change. Multiple meteorologists claim that the floods were a result of global warming and that there needs to be an active battle against climate change.

How Citizens Are Impacted

Currently, thousands of people have been left without homes due to Germany’s recent floods and the number is only expected to climb. Rescue teams are still searching for the hundreds missing across the country while many citizens are left in shock.

However, on July 21, the German government passed a $472 million relief package for victims of the flood. The funds will be distributed soon. Local officials will oversee divvying out the money. The package is also meant to kickstart the rebuilding of some of Germany’s lost structures, including schools and hospitals.

Although many across the world expect Germany’s reconstruction to be costly, experts believe that recovery can be accomplished in a timely manner. On the note of recovery, Dr. Sobisch states that “Germany’s economy is the same if not better than the U.S.” and that “Germany will not be set back by these floods.”

How to Help Germany

Many organizations are currently working to aid the flood victims inside Germany. A few organizations are offering help, including the German Red Cross and the German Life Saving Association. The district of Rhineland-Palatinate also set up a direct donation program through bank transfers. Other districts followed suit with their donation information available via a search of the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance’s online directory.

Laken Kincaid
Photo: Unsplash

primary microcephalyCouples and women commonly come to pray for fertility at the shrine of Shah Daula in Gujarat, Pakistan. According to certain beliefs, women who conceive after praying at the shrine donate their firstborn child to the shrine to prevent disabilities from appearing in the rest of their children. These children, dubbed the “rat children of Shah Daula,” largely suffer from primary microcephaly, a medical condition where the head’s circumference is smaller than average and the brain is smaller on average as well.

Many of these children beg around the shrine and surrounding cities. Theories in the past as to how these individuals came to be range from artificially-done microcephaly to genetics. Regardless, history and current issues of exploitation of the children and adults in the shrine of Shah Daula remain. Furthermore, addressing the cycle of poverty for these individuals stands as a critical priority.

Artificial or Genetic

One of the main conversations surrounding the “rat children” consists of the nature of primary microcephaly. The belief of artificially inflicting individuals with primary microcephaly has its roots in certain religious traditions connected to the Shah Daula shrine. The process involves putting an iron ring around a child’s head to restrict the growth of the head and brain, shaping their features to resemble rats. This typically forces these children to have to beg for a living.

Genetics also cause the deformities. Medline states that in Northern Pakistan, which has one of the highest rates recorded, primary microcephaly affects one in 10,000 newborns.  The high prevalence correlates to higher rates of intrafamilial marriages, which results in higher rates of genetic disorders.

However, despite debates on the causes, individuals born with primary microcephaly suffer a neurodevelopmental disorder. They bear the medical symptoms for the rest of their lives. Individuals with primary microcephaly typically experience the following in varying degrees: delayed speech and language skills along with delayed motor skills. It is these qualities that make the children and adults suffering from this neurological disorder vulnerable to exploitation. Many of the children and adults of the shrine of Shah Daula do not have anyone to depend upon and are largely left to beg on the streets for money.

Struggling with Exploitation

Origins of the condition aside, many people with primary microcephaly remain in poverty due to exploitation. In an academic study from the Quaid-e-Azam University of Pakistan, one interviewee describes how villagers in certain areas took advantage of disabled individuals for financial gain. “Villagers take these kids from their parents by giving them money and make them bareheaded.” The money the children receive from begging would then go into the villagers’ hands.

Many aspects of the mistreatment surrounding microcephalic children and adults remain illegal under the Pakistan Penal Code. Section 328 in the Pakistan Penal Code relates to the “[e]xposure and abandonment of a child under 12 years by a parent or person having care of it.” This means that mothers, fathers or guardians cannot leave a child anywhere with the intention to abandon the child.

Sections 332 and 335 make disfigurement, whether temporary or permanent, punishable by law. Section 374 separately states, “Whoever unlawfully compels any person to labor against the will of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment [or fines or both].” Nearly every aspect surrounding the treatment of microcephalic individuals in Pakistan can be considered illegal.

Offering Solutions

While there has not been major change concerning the treatment of microcephalic children and adults in Pakistan, new laws supporting the exploited and abandoned are a step in the right direction. In 2016, the parliament of Pakistan passed the Unattended Orphans (Rehabilitation and Welfare) Act, with the aim of “protecting the rights of unattended orphan and abandoned children” as well as “ensuring provision of facilities to them, including housing, education and healthcare.”

The Act also necessitates that the government “take other measures as may be necessary for their rehabilitation and welfare.” Importantly, the Act declares that anyone “who forces any unattended orphan to beg and commit petty crime or pick rags or any act which is injurious to health and dignity of an orphan will be punished with imprisonment of not less than four years, which may be extended to seven years and a fine of up to Rs200,000.”

Medical care for these individuals and providing for their basic needs so that they are not left vulnerable could improve fundamental conditions. The Technology Times suggests an increase in genetic counseling to address the role that genetics and “consanguineous” marriages play in the high rates of primary microcephaly in Pakistan.

An increased focus on helping those afflicted would benefit many in Pakistan. To lead to a point of positive change, the Pakistani government can evaluate from joint medical and policy standpoints to better help some of those most in need.

Grace Ingles
Photo: Unsplash

Effective altruismHow can we do the most good in the world? This is the guiding question of a new philosophical and moral movement called “effective altruism” (EA). Effective altruism, a concept coined by philosopher Peter Singer, is an attempt to use common sense and research to determine how each person can maximize his or her positive impact.

What is Effective Altruism?

The basic idea is simple. There are many things a person can do to improve the world. An individual can donate to charities, volunteer or support positive government action. Effective altruists, however, believe that it is not just a matter of doing good wherever it is most convenient. Take charities, for example. Some causes achieve their goals more efficiently than others. Donating $10,000 to an emergency surgery fund might save one life. But, donating that same money to a group that, for instance, teaches impoverished children how to read, could have a vastly greater effect. One of the issues effective altruists care the most about is global poverty.

Global Poverty: A High-Priority Cause

Addressing poverty is one of the most cost-effective and reliable ways to reduce suffering. Unlike some other issues, global poverty is a problem with proven solutions. Over the past 40 years, extreme poverty rates have dropped from 42% to less than 10%. With such a successful track record, it is easy to imagine that future efforts to reduce poverty will continue to pay off.

Looking at the measures taken on the ground, it is not difficult to see how a little money can have a big impact in solving global poverty. Parasitic diseases, for instance, are a huge drain on wealth and stability in large parts of the developing world, but they can be cured with a pill that costs less than a dollar. Mosquito nets are just as affordable, with the ability to protect more than half a million potential malaria victims a year.

Prioritizing Maximum Impact

According to effective altruism, it is not enough to devote time or money to a cause that generally has a good track record. An individual must look at exactly where their money is going. Even poverty-reducing measures have significant differences in efficiency and results. For example, a recent study compared the cost-benefit ratios of sustainable livelihoods graduation programs, livelihood development programs and cash transfers. Although graduation programs tend to cost more, they have far greater long-term success in lifting people out of poverty.

People are becoming far more conscientious of the causes and charities to which they choose to devote their time and money. Effective altruism is emerging in this environment. GiveWell, an effective altruism organization, analyzes the progress reports of well-known charities and conducts independent investigations into their effectiveness.

GiveWell is not afraid of courting controversy either. GiveWell recommends that individuals stop giving to some of the most well-known poverty reduction charities. According to GiveWell, these organizations lack transparency, show unimpressive results or already have more funds than they can effectively use. In the spirit of effective altruism, GiveWell instead recommends a list of alternate organizations that can fulfill similar goals far more efficiently.

Considering Effective Altruism

Effective altruism, as well as philosophically-related organizations like GiveWell, are not without critics. Some, particularly those involved with more traditional models of charity and activism, argue that effective altruism puts too many limits on an individual’s ability to donate however they choose. But, such criticisms notwithstanding, effective altruism offers a fresh perspective on how to approach pressing issues like global poverty.

– Thomas Brodey
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